Understanding Ignition Switch Failure and Knowing When to Replace it

The ignition switch is the most essential part of your vehicle's electrical system, which is responsible for starting the car engine and powering the accessories. It's located behind the ignition lock cylinder on the steering column, and it controls the operation of the electrical system. However, in case the ignition switch fails, it will lead to several problems, like the car not starting, the accessories not powering up, and may even cause electrical issues. 

That is why we have compiled this guide on ignition switch failure, which will explain everything related to ignition switch. You will learn the basics of ignition switch failure. What are the potential causes of the problem? And how to recognize the signs of a failing ignition switch? Importantly, when you should consider replacing the ignition switch. 

What is Ignition Switch Failure?

Ignition switch failure occurs when the ignition switch stops functioning correctly and fails to perform its critical function in the vehicle's electrical system. The ignition switch is responsible for starting the engine, which, in turn, powers the accessories and controls the system's operation. Therefore, it will lead to many problems when the ignition switch starts to fail. For instance, your engine might crank, which in turn, will result in other accessories not powering up and electrical issues in other gears.

Various factors can cause ignition switch failure. One common cause is wear and tear, as the switch undergoes significant use over time. Additionally, damage to the switch, such as from an accident or exposure to harsh elements, can lead to failure. Moreover, electrical faults can also cause the ignition switch to fail, given there might be a short circuit or a malfunctioning sensor. 

To prevent ignition switch failure, it's essential to maintain your vehicle regularly, including inspecting the switch for signs of wear or damage. If you notice any issues with the switch, it's critical to address them promptly to prevent further damage and ensure your vehicle operates safely and smoothly.

What Causes Ignition Switch failure?

A variety of factors can cause ignition switch failure; however, some of the common reasons for ignition switch failure are: 

  • Wear and tear:

Frequent use may result in worn-out ignition switches. For instance, one of the most common reasons for the ignition switch in our garage that we see is the metal inside the switch corrodes and wears down. This results in an ability to transmit the necessary electrical signals and results in the engine not cranking. 

  • Electrical issues:

An ignition switch consists of several electrical components that work together seamlessly to start the engine. However, if there is a malfunctioning sensor or short circuit, the ignition switch will not operate. 

  • Overheating:

The ignition switch will overheat if there is a faulty alternator or battery, which will result in the ignition switch failure. 

  • Damage due to accidents or harsh environmental elements:

Water and moisture are enemies of any electrical unit, and the ignition switch is no different. It causes the contacts in the ignition switch to corrode and fail eventually. 

  • Manufacturing defects may cause the ignition switch to fail prematurely: 

It might be the car manufacturer that would have used a faulty ignition switch in the first place. It is not common; however, sometimes, the manufacturing processes or use of faulty materials results in defects that can lead to ignition switch failure. 

Signs of a Failed or Failing Ignition Switch

Here are some of the most common reasons for ignition switch failure:

  • Car failed to start

The most common sign of a failing ignition switch is your car not starting. If you turn the key and try to crank the engine and nothing happens — it could be the ignition switch that might be malfunctioning.

  • Engine stalling

If your car engine is stalling when you drive or leave it idle, there could be an issue with the ignition switch. A faulty switch will cause the engine to shut off and result in cutting power to other systems like the fuel pump — which, in turn, results in engine stalling.

  • Accessories are failing to power up.

It is the ignition switch that powers up all the electrical systems in your car. If it does not work, it may fail to start some or all components and accessories like the radio, AC, and lights to not work. So, if you see that some of the accessories are not powering up, it is time to go for an ignition switch checkup. 

  • Difficulty in turning the key

If the key gets stuck in the ignition switch, there might be mechanical problems that might prevent the ignition switch from working. You have to see the car locksmith if the key is stuck in the ignition switch. 

  • Noisy cranks and electrical issues

If you hear a whirring sound when you try to crank the engine, it might be some electrical issues in the ignition switch components. Additionally, it might be the battery that may not be able to deliver enough power for the ignition switch to work. 

When to replace the ignition switch?

If there is difficulty in starting the car, it is taking multiple attempts to crank the engine. Suppose accessories not powering up, like the air conditioning or lights, fail in the car. In that case, it is time to replace the ignition switch. Additionally, noisy cranking or the key getting stuck are all signs of a degrading ignition switch. If you do not want your car to stop in the middle of the road, it is essential to maintain and consider timely repair. 

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